New research has shown that having trees in your street may significantly reduce your risk of depression and the need to take antidepressants.
Depression, especially in urban areas, is on the rise. While former studies have shown that urban greenspace has a positive benefit on people experiencing mental ill health, most of these studies used self-reported measures.
A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports analysed data from almost 10,000 residents in a German city called Leipzig. It found that more trees immediately around the home (less than 100 metres) was associated with a reduced risk of being prescribed antidepressant medication. This association was especially strong for socioeconomically disadvantaged groups.
The research was conducted by the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research, Leipzig University, and the Friedrich Schiller University Jena.
The researchers found that, regardless of species, everyday contact with nearby nature – either through a window view at home or on the street – had benefits for mental health and wellbeing.
“Our finding suggests that street trees – a small scale, publicly accessible form of urban greenspace – can help close the gap in health inequalities between economically different social groups,” said lead author of the study Dr Melissa Marselle. “This is good news because street trees are relatively easy to achieve and their number can be increased without much planning effort.”
Marselle hopes the research will “prompt local councils to plant street trees to urban areas as a way to improve mental health and reduce social inequalities. Street trees should be planted equally in residential areas to ensure those who are socially disadvantaged have equal access to receive its health benefits.”
“Importantly, most planning guidance for urban greenspace is often based on purposeful visits for recreation”, added Dr Diana Bowler, data analyst in the team. “Our study shows that everyday nature close to home – the biodiversity you see out of the window or when walking or driving to work, school or shopping – is important for mental health.”
The bliss of forest bathing
While urban trees are a mood booster, the Japanese swear by a practice called forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku. Shinrin in Japanese means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” So shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through your senses.
Forest bathing has been popular in Japan since the 1980s. Sessions are even prescribed on the national health program, with more than 70 elected healing forests across Japan.
A recent study of 585 young adult Japanese participants reported on their moods after walking for 15 minutes, either in an urban setting or in a forest. The forests and urban centres were in 52 different locations around the country, and about a dozen participants walked in each area. In all cases, the participants walking in a forest experienced less anxiety, hostility, fatigue, confusion, and depressive symptoms, and more energy compared to walking in an urban setting. The results were even stronger for people who were more anxious to begin with.